From the holy teachings of the Admor R' Sholom Noach Berzovsky
zt'l of Slonim
"You are sons unto Hashem your G-d, you shall not gash yourselves"
The Torah establishes the status of the Jewish people as sons: You are sons
unto Hashem your G-d; My firstborn son, Yisroel. This is a most exalted
rank which embodies great privileges but it also obligates.
What can most limit and constrict a person in his conduct is the knowledge
of his high station. A person who lives his life permeated with the
awareness that he is an aristocrat, a prince, will avoid all conduct that
does not befit his exalted status. R' Moshe of Kobrun zy'a, used to
say: If a common army private forgets his station, it is a severe
misdemeanor. All the more so, to be sure, if an officer, especially a high-
ranking one, forgets his station, in which case it is unforgivable. Worst
of all is if a prince forgets his high birth and acts in ways that are
unseemly -- this is untenable and unpardonable.
The Torah informs us of our noble status as princes and of the title that
accompanies it: You are sons unto Hashem your G-d. And amongst the
prohibitive commandments, it includes that of, "You shall not gash
yourselves or put a baldness between your eyes for the dead." Sforno
comments on this: It is not seemly to exhibit such an extreme sign of pain
and anxiety over a deceased relative when there is yet a closer but more
important relative still alive. Therefore you, who are children unto Hashem
Who is your Father and Who exists forever, should refrain from exhibiting
the greatest extreme in mourning over any human relative, whoever he may
The Ibn Ezra notes: "For after you realize that you are sons unto Hashem
and that He loves you far more than does an earthly father his son, you
will not gash yourselves over anything [that befalls you] for whatever
happens can only be for the good." We see thus that the Torah demands from
us a conscious, dignified conduct, for we are all the sons of the A-mighty.
We must infer an additional lesson from this. The Torah addresses the
person in his most distressed hour, when someone dear to him has passed
away, when he has no source of moral support or encouragement in his
misfortune -- then is he urged by the Torah to be fortified in the thought
that he is a son unto Hashem. With the strength of this idea, he will be
able to overcome his pain and mourning.
And this concept applies as well to the difficult hours in the realm of
spirituality that overtake a person, when he has sinned and even wallowed
in sin deeply and feels that his world is lost, that he is doomed in this
world and the next. Even then must he strengthen himself in the feeling and
knowledge that he is still a son unto Hashem.
R' Meir states in Kiddushin 36a that Jews are forever the sons of
Hashem, whether they conform to the will of Hashem or not, that is, even if
they are disobedient and sinful. Regardless, they are still His children.
In his responsa (Part I 194: 242), the Rashba writes that the
halochoh is like R' Meir in this aspect, and this knowledge should
invigorate and encourage us and fill us with hope that we can always shake
ourselves from the dust and rise from the dustheaps.
Alongside our being sons unto Hashem, we are also His servants. "They are
My servants whom I have taken out from the land of Egypt." In physical
terms, there is a significant difference between a son and a servant. In
fact, the roles are so polar as to never converge at any point! Actually,
they run parallel and complement one another. "Whether like sons or whether
like servants . . . "
It is up to us to know when to evoke the sentiment of "whether like
servants" and when to invoke the feeling of "whether like sons." We must
clarify to ourselves when it is necessary to use them in tandem. For truly,
in our service of Hashem, there are two aspects that must arouse in us the
fear of Hashem, when to serve Him as a devoted servant to the utmost of our
capability, or when we must arouse the filial love towards Hashem with a
fierce adherence out of love. "Whether like sons . . . "
Torah is acquired only through arduous toil and input, as Chazal stated:
"The words of Torah can only have endurance and permanence with one who
veritably sacrifices himself for it." One who wishes to acquire the crown
of Torah must toil like a slave, like an ox under a yoke and like a donkey
under a burden.
Similarly, in the matter of distancing oneself from evil, when those evil
drives rise to the fore, it is possible to uproot the fires of evil only
through a deep fear of G-d, through the knowledge that Hashem sees our
deeds and punishes those who transgress His commandments and that there is
justice and a judge.
This applies as well to one's efforts in self-improvement, in character
refinement, for in order to uproot evil traits and murky desires from one's
heart, one must foster the attribute of fear to a great degree. Here is the
correct place of "whether like servants," to toil persistently to brake and
break the evil within us, to do the opposite of our animal inclination and
to toil so hard as to transform our innate nature to the good, as explained
in the Rambam, Hilchos Dei'os, chapter 2.
On the other hand, regarding the positive commandments, the main thing is
to rouse the sentiment of filial loyalty, of a son towards his father. For
Hashem desires the heart, and one must rouse one's heart to love Hashem and
to feel a blissful satisfaction in fulfilling His will and causing Him
This applies very much to the commandment of Shabbos which is a sign of
Hashem's love towards the Jews, and likewise with prayer, which is direct
communication between son and Father. The highest level of prayer is,
indeed, when a person pours out his heart before his Creator, like a son
before his Father. When a Jew feels this open channel of communication, of
crying out to Hashem, Who listens, of, "Our Father, our King, You are our
Father" -- then all the gates of mercy are flung open for him.
A perfect and whole G-dly service is the combination of both relationships.
The Zohar teaches us that we must combine a love for Hashem with a
fear of Hashem, for through this, the body is purified along with the
spirit in toil and piety. And then one is privileged to experience a
closeness towards Hashem: Children are you unto Hashem your G-d.